Over the years on dating apps, I’ve built up a personal list of auto-swipes left: multiple gym mirror selfies, pro-hunting content (when I lived in Texas), pro -NFT (now that I’m in New York), and the banal and ubiquitous image of fish.
But the red flag that makes me think the most is not the one I can joke about during brunch.
There’s one thing I see over and over again that fills me with instinctive anxiety – a white man with pictures from his time in Japan.
Growing up mixed race in the Midwest, I’m used to questions that arise from a certain level of curiosity about my background – Wwhat are you ? Where do you come from? No, where are you really from? And while comments like these may annoy me, they’re not the ones that make me nervous.
The white guys who feel the most threatening are the ones who excitedly tell me how much they love Asian culture, ask me if I’m hafuwho call me “exotic” like there’s no higher form of praise.
In some ways, dating someone who already appreciates my cultural background should be a positive thing. I wouldn’t have to explain why I run a house without shoes or why making a plate of fruit for someone is a deep expression of love. But that’s not exactly what’s happening here. There is a thin line between appreciation and a fixation that goes too far.
My Asian friends and I are used to navigating this dynamic, researching ex-partners of people we date, scouring Instagram grids looking for a model – nervous about what we might find.
And it’s easy for me to wonder if I’m just overreacting, if I’m being too sensitive to all of this. Of course, white people are allowed to enjoy sushi and anime. Of course, someone can travel to a foreign country without wanting to conquer the people who come from there. And of course, people can have “a type” when they date.
Maybe my standards are too high, people suggest. But is it even a norm to ask to be treated as a multifaceted person?
I say “ask” not “expect” because, to be honest, I stopped expecting men to see me as a whole person a long time ago. Because when you’re constantly reduced to a series of fantasies (conscious or not) – commodified, exotic, submissive – it becomes hard to think that you could be worthy of your own humanity.
And it’s certainly true that I a m very sensitive on this point.
As a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, this feeling of being dehumanized and the resulting loss of power lives deep in my bones.
My trauma has made me an expert in the art of compartmentalization – without which I could never leave my apartment – but there is no way for me to avoid the truth that trauma and race are inextricably linked.
After last year’s attack in the Atlanta area, the gunman told authorities he suppressed “temptation” when targeting Asian-owned and operated massage parlors. I remember not being surprised by this explanation, having known it somehow before it was even put into words.
And then I thought more about my own experiences and how I had spent years intuitively dodging red flags before I could articulate the real, concrete danger behind the screen. As was a running joke that one of the men who assaulted me had “yellow fever”.
And it’s not just me. This tale is all too familiar. The combination of violence and fetishization is part of the story of being an Asian woman in this country. Of the 10,905 hate incidents recorded by Stop AAPI Hate between March 19, 2020 and December 31, 2021, nearly 62% of these were reported by women.
Being dehumanized like this has both internal and external elements. There is the feeling that I am reduced to something less than myself, but there is also a very real fear that goes with it: the fear of the reaction of these men if I am not what they expect. of me.
And while I don’t appreciate the overtly rude behavior I encounter in my life — cat calls to be caught on the train — it’s less insidious than that masked fetishization that lurks behind reverence. Where I’m always one swipe away from finding the wrong person.
Single for years, I get asked a lot of questions about my love life. When I tell people I’m taking a break from apps, they seem almost offended at first, like they’re insulted by my lack of effort. Then they usually make some kind of comment about how hard it must be there, going through all the similar profiles and the same conversations. And there is something familiar about all of this, but not in the way they think.
I wish all the time to stop feeling optimistic, to be able to bury myself in my self-preservation instinct and just stop dating for the rest of my life, to be able to avoid these apps altogether.
But on days that seem safe enough, I find I’m always pushed to kick myself out. Because the truth is, I want a partner, and despite my best efforts, I still feel hope.
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